Methods: A qualitative research design was employed to explore client experiences of the FS program across seven participating counties. Analysis of demographic and FS program participation characteristics generated comparable sampling frames of 15-20 FS clients per county. Eight clients per county were then recruited for the final sample (n=56). Most clients were randomly selected from the county sampling frames while some were purposively sampled to ensure client diversity. In-person semi-structured interviews were conducted at county agencies or at the client’s home, using an open-ended interview guide. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed in Dedoose (qualitative analytical software) using an inductive and deductive coding scheme.
Results: The FS clients interviewed were primarily single-mothers, representing an array of ethnicities and age. Many reported complex and persistent needs and challenges related to domestic violence, mental health and/or substance use. Due to high housing costs in the region, many identified housing as their primary need. Across counties, participants reported positive experiences with FS services. They described receiving services that connected them to community-based organizations providing housing, therapy or childcare. They appreciated and benefited from caring, trusting relationships with their FS caseworkers who provided personalized assistance to address their family’s needs, including documenting service eligibility. Client experiences were also shaped by the timing and duration of the FS services received as well their pathway into the FS program.
Many clients contrasted their experiences with the FS program to the CalWORKs program as a whole. As one client stated, “FS made me feel like a person and not another case”. Clients viewed the FS program as a “hidden treasure”, a repository of helpful information and service referrals, which should be more widely publicized.
Conclusions & Implications: Study findings indicate that human service agencies can better serve the needs of welfare-to-work clients who are experiencing destabilizing crises by focusing on building trusting worker-client relationships, tailoring services to client needs, expanding services from the adult head of household to the entire family, and helping clients navigate service criteria and requirements.